As the music industry continues to wake from its holiday season slumber and awards season barrels on, there’s much to catch up on in the worlds of hip-hop and R&B.
Earlier this month (Jan. 6), Jay-Z picked up his second Primetime Emmy — outstanding directing for a variety special for The Apple Music Super Bowl LVII Halftime Show Starring Rihanna. He won his first last year as an executive producer of the 2022 Super Bowl Halftime Show starring Dr. Dre, Snoop Dogg, Mary J. Blige, Eminem, Kendrick Lamar and 50 Cent. In more somber awards news, last Friday (Jan. 12), The Hollywood Reporter exclusively revealed that Diddy — nominated in best progressive R&B album for The Love Album: Off the Grid — would not be attending the upcoming 66th Annual Grammy Awards amid his recent sexual assault allegations.
In non-awards news, Lil Nas X made a characteristically controversial comeback with “J Christ,” Kali Uchis dropped off a new album alongside a pregnancy announcement, Janet Jackson announced new North American dates for her acclaimed Together Again tour and 21 Savage released his first solo LP in five years.
With Fresh Picks, Billboard aims to highlight some of the best and most interesting new sounds across R&B and hip-hop — from Destin Conrad and Alex Isley’s devastating duet to 21 Savage’s Shining-inspired street anthem. Be sure to check out this week’s Fresh Picks in our Spotify playlist below.
Freshest Find: Destin Conrad & Alex Isley, “Same Mistake”
We’re only a few months removed from Submissive, but Destin Conrad already has his focus on Submissive 2. “Same Mistake” arrives as a forlorn ballad chiefly concerned with documenting the final moments of a disintegrating romance. “Why you always wanna play games?/ Night time you’re mine, and daylight you act like you don’t even know my name,” Destin croons over Louie Lastic’s ethereal production. Isley first delivers her trademark honeyed vocals as background accompaniment on Destin’s verse before commanding her own verse with equal parts ache and devastation. “Only wanted the best and I’m stickin’ to my story/ This was a moment for me, and this was all it could be,” she sings.
K CAMP & NoCap, “My Flowers”
Few expressions have been run into the ground in the past half-decade as much as “giving somebody their flowers.” Miraculously, K CAMP and NoCap manage to deliver a spin on the phrase that feels fresh. Featuring production contributions from Trappin N London, Theevoni, MilanoTheProducer & J-RoD, “My Flowers” finds K Camp nimbly flowing over a solemn guitar-inflected trap beat. “N—as playin’ with my worth, you better have a check for me/ Or you better not check for me, angels standin’ next to me,” he spits. NoCap perfectly matches K Camp’s energy with a slightly more melodic flow that picks up on the same lyrical throughlines of loyalty and genuine love.
Kevin Gates, “Birds Calling”
Kevin Gates is always good for a ratchet bop, and he’s dropped off yet another one in “Birds Calling.” A play on the trope of birds singing at sunrise, Gates waxes poetic about women hitting his line at all hours of the day. With Starrah and 302 on production duties, Gates hides some pretty sobering bars in between the sing-song hook. “Cleansing my sins started healing, I’m righteous/ Free everybody who thuggin’ in Rikers/ Know that I’m free, I’m authentically me,” he raps. “Birds Calling” is a headier complement to “Yonce Freestyle,” the club banger that served as the other pre-release single from Gates’ forthcoming The Ceremony LP.
Jhené Aiko, “Sun/Son”
It’s been a little over three years since Jhené Aiko last gifted us a studio album, but she’s still remained musically active. Her latest release, “Sun/Son” serves as a loving tribute to her son for his first birthday. Lyrically, Aiko plays on the homophonous quality of the words in the song’s title, painting with broad strokes that contour the “solar power” her son’s love “charges her up” with. Vocally, she opts for a lush flurry of subdued harmonies that reside almost exclusively in her falsetto. It’s a relatively coy vocal performance, but one whose delicateness is the key ingredient to crafting a song with such a self-assured sense of intimacy.
Samaria, “Beating Myself Up”
This glitchy slice of electronic R&B is the perfect backdrop to a session of serious self-loathing. “Want to think I’m one of a kind/ But it gets way too, too loud/ Used to get professional help/ Too scared of what they found,” Samaria says in a cadence somewhere between rapping, singing and stream-of-consciousness rambling. The flashes of drum’n’bass production drive home the song’s most sinister undertones, but it’s Samaria’s tone — hurt masked by a veneer or apathy — that embodies the destruction of innocence that anchors the track’s sentiments.
Jeymes Samuel, Doja Cat, Kodak Black & Adekunle Gold, “JEEZU”
Jay-Z caused quite the stir on Spaces last week when he sang Doja Cat’s praises, but he wasn’t just running his mouth. After scoring a runaway hit with “Vegas” from the Elvis soundtrack in 2022, the “Agora Hills” rapper has lent her talents to another blockbuster movie OST. Alongside Adekunle Gold, Kodak Black and film director Jeyemes Samuel, Doja delivers a standout verse for the Book of Clarence soundtrack posse cut. “Y’all got an agenda, but we’ll see how that gon’ turn out/ Many false prophets leavin’ brothers with a firm doubt/ Father, please forgive me, for today, they finna learn now/ Put me in the dirt, and you gon’ see, I make it worthwhile,” she spits over Samuel’s laid-back jazz-inflected production. Adekunle’s impassioned hook is the song’s glue, while Kodak delivers one of his best verses in recent years on the Diaspora-traversing song.
21 Savage, “Redrum”
A new 21 Savage album normally means the return of the rapper in both savage mode and R&B mode. While both personas made for enjoyable tracks on his newly released American Dream LP, “Redrum” is the unequivocal standout from his “savage mode” tracks. Featuring production from London on da Track, “Redrum” — “murder” spelled backwards, of course — finds the Grammy-winner rattling off his gun collection and delivering a slew of menacing metaphors and one-liners. The key part of the track, however, is the outro, which samples Jack Nicholson’s recitation of the “Three Little Pigs” nursery rhyme from The Shining (1980). Talk about thematic consistency!